When the U.S. Open was played at Bethpage Black in 2002, much was made of how it was the first major ever played at a municipal golf course. When the Open returns to Bethpage this week, that same storyline will be beaten into the ground.
While having the Open at Bethpage is a victory for the common man, it takes a common Long Islander to really appreciate it.
Sure, the New York area has hosted the Open at Shinnecock Hills and Winged Foot this decade, but those courses are as foreign to us as Oakmont Hills and Pinehurst No. 2. Sure, the private courses are near our houses, but they don't belong to us.
Bethpage is ours.
Bethpage State Park's golf facilities were renovated in the late '90s with the promise of the 2002 U.S. Open. When the Black Course reopened in 1998, along with its sparkling new clubhouse, it had a profound impact on the life of a then 13-year-old Paul Sievers who was teased by his friends for gravitating towards golf instead of football or basketball.
This was at a time when many of the local professional teams were having trouble securing funding for new stadiums. It was also the second full year of Tigermania.
When Bethpage reopened, I had New York's most spectacular sports facility at my disposal and the biggest sports superstar in the world to look up to. I also had my dream, to qualify and win the 2002 Open at my home course. Sure I was as delusional as Carl Spackler, swinging at the Bushwood C.C. flowers, pretending it was Augusta, but nobody had the heart to tell me I couldn't do it.
Sure, my Dad probably had more to do with me picking up golf than any of these three factors, but I'm not sure if I'm ever an All-County high school golfer if these factors weren't in play.
Through high school, my father and I probably played the Black Course somewhere between 50-100 times. Rarely did we play the full round; my Dad and I often were unable to reserve a time before 4 pm. With the $15 twilight rate, we figured an incomplete round on the Black course was better than a full round anywhere else.
We would usually be able to finish 14 holes before calling it quits due to darkness. If one of us was playing particularly well, we would try to play in the dark, taking educated guesses as to where the ball ended up and a free drop if the educated guess was wrong.
Some of those rounds we talk about to this day. There was the day I birdied all three par-fives and still didn't break 100. There was the day my Dad holed out back-to-back shots from the fairway on holes nine and 10, and still didn't break 90. There was the round we played four days after the 2002 U.S. Open where the rough was so thick, it was impossible to advance the ball 100 yards. This after they cut it!
I still remember how proud he was when I had the audacity to beat him on Father's Day when I was 15 and how amazed I was when he was able to return the favor when I returned home from my freshman year of college.
My stories are not unique to this area and that's exactly what makes this venue so special. It's personal.
There will be 40,000 people in the gallery and at least 10,000 of them have stories similar to mine. When a player can't get a tee shot to reach the 10th fairway or get his ball to bite on the 17th green, we all know exactly what he's going through.
I don't play much golf anymore these days. At age 24, I lack the money and time to play the game. The rare opportunities I do have to play, my game no longer resembles the 18-year-old, single-digit handicapper that Bethpage Black molded. But come Father's Day, I will be with my Dad as we watch the greatest players in the world try to tame our old stomping grounds.
We will cheer when the players hit good shots but we will also take perverse joy in their struggles.
We will nod our heads in sympathy when the players struggle with the bunkers and shake our heads in disbelief when they make it look easy.
We will talk about how our drives always seem to find the right fairway bunkers on 10 and 11 or how my decision to trade my seven-wood for a two-iron meant the end of my success on the 17th. Our stories will be special but we will not be alone.
And that is why as a venue, Bethpage Black stands apart.